- Title: Wildfires tear across Israel, Netanyahu calls arsonists 'terrorists'
- Date: 24th November 2016
- Summary: HAIFA, ISRAEL (NOVEMBER 24, 2016) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF OBJECT ON FIRE ON GROUND VARIOUS OF TREES ON FIRE FIRE FIGHTER LOOKING AT FIRE
- Embargoed: 9th December 2016 19:05
- Keywords: Israel Benjamin Netanyahu Haifa fires wildfire arsonist
- Location: HAIFA, NEVE ILAN, ISRAEL
- City: HAIFA, NEVE ILAN, ISRAEL
- Country: Israel
- Topics: Environment,Weather
- Reuters ID: LVA00159T298N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday (November 24) that any fire caused by arson in a series of blazes that have spread across central and northern Israel would be considered as "terrorism".
"Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such," Netanyahu told reporters gathered in Haifa. "Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished for it severely."
Wildfires tore across central and northern Israel on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee the city of Haifa, as leaders blamed arsonists for some of the blazes and branded them terrorists.
Television pictures showed a wall of flames raging through central neighbourhoods of Israel's third largest city. Firefighters dowsed a petrol station with water as the blaze edged closer.
The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fuelled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds.
With fires burning in the forests west of Jerusalem, around Haifa, on central and northern hilltops and in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the government sought assistance from neighbouring countries to tackle the emergency.
Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey and Russia offered help, with several aircraft already joining efforts to quell the fires, dropping fire-retardant material to try to douse the heaviest blazes and stem their spread.
Netanyahu said he had asked for a "Super Tanker" fire fighting aircraft to be sent from the United States.
The Palestinian Authority had offered assistance as well, he said.
During the news conference, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan referred to "arson terrorism" and said there had been a small number of arrests, providing no other details.
"There have been a small number of arrests. The police has no intention of giving out further details, neither does the fire and rescue authority, because those investigations are being handled jointly, in order not to expose what information we have and not to harm those investigations and not say what the police already know," Erdan said.
A thick haze of smoke hung over Haifa, which rises up from the Mediterranean Sea overlooking a large port. Schools and universities were evacuated, and two nearby prisons transferred inmates to other jails, a prisons service spokesman said. Patients were moved out of a geriatric hospital.
A resident of Haifa, Avi Flax, who was evacuated with his family to a community centre, said that they do not know what happened to their house.
"We live in a neighbourhood that was not in the centre of the fire but there is a lot of, we don't really know, because as fire goes there, burning, the wind can take the fire to many places, we know of places across the road from our house which were burnt slightly. The state of ours (house), we don't know, we are waiting to see what happens. For the time being we're enjoying ourselves, feeling a lot of love from a lot of people, all over, we have had a lot of invitations to come and sleep over," Flax said.
A lack of rain combined with very dry air and strong easterly winds have spread the fires this week across the centre and north of the country, as well as parts of the West Bank. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed but no deaths or serious injuries have been reported.
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